Posts tagged prayer
They say that inner peace is illusive – that we are destined to wrestle with our demons and to be anxious in our thoughts. But God says differently. In Philippians 4, the Apostle Paul encourages his readers:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
It’s a familiar passage, but one I read afresh this morning in the midst of thinking about all the logistics of our move to Kenya, all the money to be raised and plans to be made. “Do not be anxious about anything…”
That’s a pretty tall order. Thankfully, Paul gives us the key to this lack of anxiousness. Prayer and petition, infused with thanksgiving, leads to the peace we seek. And when I think about those words, it makes sense. Bringing a request to God, while recognizing the many times and ways he has been faithful to me in the past, is a way of tying the past, present and future together. He has been faithful. He is faithful. Thus, he will be faithful.
Suddenly, the things that might beg for anxiety shrink in the light of God’s faithfulness. The overwhelming concerns of this world dissipate in the presence of the one who created the world and who has overcome it.
The key to peace, then, is found in this thanksgiving-laden prayer – bringing our requests before God while simultaneously thanking him for his faithfulness. The outcome of these prayers, Paul says, is “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” and that “will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
I’m in. Let’s do this thing!
Wherever I go and whoever I talk to about my relationship with Kenya, one point I always try to make is that the relationship between the “developed” world and the “developing” world (in my case, between Americans and Kenyans) doesn’t have to be a one-way relationship. There is a myth that has been advanced by both “first world” and “third world” people that says that those from developing nations must always be on the receiving end of the transaction and those from developed nations must always be on the giving end.
One of the most profound moments I’ve had in Kenya was on my first trip there when I made a simple statement to the church where I was speaking – a statement attached to a request. “I know you want me to pray for you,” I said, “but I think you have something to offer as well. I would like you to pray for me.” The people of that small church were shocked at the idea that they had anything to offer. They had been convinced that they were supposed to always be recipients. The pastor of that church, with whom I am now friends, was moved to tears (very unusual in Kenyan culture). “Who knew,” he said, “that Africans had anything to offer an American.”
With that backdrop, I present to you Richard Turere, a Kenyan boy whose ingenuity not only got outside the box of traditional thinking within one of Africa’s oldest tribes, but whose invention could become a game-changer all over the world. If he had any doubt before, Richard now knows that Africans have a lot to offer the rest of us!
1 Corinthians 13 has been called the love chapter, which makes sense given the subject matter. However, when taken in context of the preceding chapter, chapter 13 takes on even more meaning. Remember, these chapters weren’t written as chapters. They were part of a letter – continuous thoughts flowing into each other.
So, when Paul speaks of the diversity of gifts in the Church in chapter 12 and ends that chapter by saying, “Now eagerly desire the greater gifts,” then follows that up with, “And yet I will show you the most excellent way,” he then begins to talk about love. Love is at the pinnacle of everything. As Paul goes on to explain, love is a prerequisite for all of the gifts of the Spirit and is even greater than faith and hope.
When taken in this context, love becomes the lifeblood of the Church – the body of Christ. Love is the unifying force that runs through all of the various body parts. Love is what makes all of those part function and perform together. Love is really important!
The other thing I noticed for the first time is that Paul’s famous “love is…” statements are given not as directives, but as observations. Paul speaks of the outflow of love – the results of loving. In other words, he doesn’t say, “If you want to show love, then be this way.” He says that we should seek to love. And if we do love, then the result of that love will be patience, kindness and all the rest.
In some ways, that makes the instruction a lot simpler. What do we need to ask God to give us? Love! Rather than praying to be patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, etc. we can cover the whole lot by praying that God will help us to love. And that is my prayer today and every day for the past 10 or 15 years: “God, help me to see people as you see them and to love them as you love them.”
It’s not a complex prayer, but it has become the cry of my heart and I recognize God answering that prayer in big and small ways nearly every day.
It is, to me, one of the most profound prayers a person can pray:
“God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:13)
In these simple words, the tax collector in Jesus’ story has come to a profound realization. While the overly-religious Pharisee has attempted to state his case before God – to justify himself by reciting all the good things he has done – the tax collector has no illusions that he is worthy of receiving anything from God. Aware of his own faults, he pleads with God for mercy.
The Pharisee doesn’t see himself that way. He would be insulted by the insinuation that he was anything but pure, holy and blameless. For a man like this, the idea that he wasn’t worthy of God’s gifts was an insult.
However, according to Jesus, this man who attempted to justify himself before God completely missed the mark. Meanwhile, the man who made the self-aware proclamation that he was a sinner in need of God’s mercy – that man went home justified before God.
I don’t know about you, but this is a prayer I could repeat with authenticity every single day – “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Every single day, I’m a sinner. Every single day, I need God’s mercy. If I don’t pray anything else, I should be able to utter those words.
The good news, of course, is that God does and will have mercy on us. He knows all about us. He knows how badly we mess things up on a daily basis. In fact, he’s known that all along and he’s already made the decision to forgive us and show us mercy.
Given that fact, he must still really long to hear us say those words – to recognize the state we’re in and that he is the only one who can fix our situation. God’s heart is to show us mercy. His desire is to give that gift to us. All we have to do is ask.
Today’s Reading: Mark 14
Jesus makes an interesting statement in verse 38 of today’s reading:
“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38)
Now, when we think of temptation, most of us think of being tempted to sin – of falling into the trap of committing some sin against God. But here, it doesn’t seem like there is any sort of sin “opportunity.” Jesus seems to be encouraging his disciples not to fall into the temptation of sleep.
Sleeping certainly isn’t a sin. Even in this situation, it would be tough to argue that nodding off is some sort of evil act. And I don’t think Jesus is saying that it is. What he is saying, however, is that there is the temptation for these guys to fall asleep when it is very important for them to be alert. Jesus knows what is coming and he doesn’t want his guys to be found “asleep at the wheel,” to use a modern phrase.
And I wonder how often I am guilty of dozing off in those moments when I need to be most alert. In those times when things seem to be “OK,” it’s easy to relax a little too much. But sometimes, those are the exact moment that we will come under spiritual attack. For me, some of those times have come when I was traveling.
One of my biggest “don’t fall asleep” moments was in an airport in Miami on my way to Haiti. I was excited about the journey because I was going down to do the stuff of Jesus in helping the victims of an earthquake. Meanwhile, I was probably a little “asleep”, spiritually speaking, with regards to the very real spiritual battle that was taking place at home regarding the adoption of our little girl.
I received a call that day that served as a wake-up call for me. The call was from my wife who had, in turn, received a call from our social worker that indicated that there was a high possibility that our baby would be taken from us and there wasn’t a whole lot we could do about it. I wanted to catch the next flight home. I wanted to do something. But what I did – what I needed to do – was pray.
That’s what Jesus asked of his disciples. As he was facing the most difficult day of his life, he asked them to pray. He didn’t ask them to prepare for a battle or to form a wall to hide him from his enemies. Just pray – pray and not be lulled into the temptation of falling asleep at the wheel just when he and his followers were coming under attack.